best film:  Edward Norton has been in fifteen (15) archiveable films and 6 (six) of them have been at the masterpiece or must-see level. Now that number is a little inflated with the three Wes Anderson collaborations (and really Norton is not a major cog in the ensemble machine there – though repeat viewings reward the work he does in Moonrise Kingdom in particular). Perhaps he is laying the groundwork here with Wes for a bigger slice of the pie so to speak in one of his films. This leaves Fight Club (1999), 25th Hour (2002) and Birdman (2014). These are heavyweight films from David Fincher, Spike Lee and Alejandro González Iñárritu – three (3) of the greatest filmmakers in contemporary cinema. Forced to select one of the three, the edge seems to belong to Fight Club.


Edward Norton in Fight Club credited simply as “narrator”. Fight Club is one of the crown jewels of the glorious cinema year that is 1999.


best performance:  Performances one (1) through three (3) below on the top five (5) list are virtually tied. Norton is a possessed, tour de force in American History X but the stakes are not quite as high as the other three as the film itself does not quite measure up to Norton’s solo act (the same could be said on a slightly lower scale for 1996’s Primal Fear – Norton’s breakout film and performance). The argument against Fight Club and Birdman, though this is hardly a rule, is that he does not give the best performance in either film (that belongs to Brad Pitt and Michael Keaton respectively). Spike’s 25th Hour emerges as the victor here though he is definitely not an actor like Peter O’Toole or Joaquin Phoenix with one clear cut best performance.


Norton as Monty Brogan in Spike Lee’s 2002 film 25th Hour – one of Spike’s trademark techniques – the direct address to the camera.


stylistic innovations/traits:  Edward Norton has been brilliant in three (3) masterpieces in each of the last three decades (Fight Club, 25th Hour, Birdman). He has undeniable talent and range. He seems to specialize in characters that undergo major transformations or have multiple personality disorders. He went from a shy rural Kentucky hayseed in one scene in his debut, to a manipulative murderer in one movie. From project to project he went from a lighter than air (for anyone that has seen the film) Woody Allen musical in Everyone Says I Love You to a neo-Nazi gang leader in American History X. This was all before the turn of the century (and the age of thirty – 30 for Norton). And that is part of the argument against Norton – his own magnificent start to his career. He was born in 1969 and two of his three Oscar nominations come before the age of 30. He has had a fine career since 2002, but it does not feel like he has fulfilled the promise of that outstanding start. If someone had asked in 1999 or 2002, who would have the better career, co-star Brad Pitt or Edward Norton (working together in 1999’s Fight Club of course) – the answer would have been laughter (and the acknowledgement of the absurdity of the obvious answer: Edward Norton). Ask the same question about Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton – same answer. Being part of Wes Anderson’s trope is a coup for any actor – but these are not major accomplishments for Norton.  During this post- 2002 down stretch, his gifts are best realized in Birdman.


American History X (1998) – a powerful film and performance from Edward Norton. His 1998 also includes Rounders – just a ridiculous stretch of work for any young actor


directors worked with:  Wes Anderson (3), Woody Allen (1), Milos Forman (1), David Fincher (1), Spike Lee (1), Ridley Scott (1), Alejandro González Iñárritu (1)


top five performances:

  1. The 25th Hour
  2. Fight Club
  3. American History X
  4. Birdman
  5. Primal Fear


Primal Fear is known and remembered for being Edward Norton’s debut (he is in some educational anthology film before it technically) and breakout. He would go on to have a massive 1996 following this including Woody’s Everybody Says I Love You and The People Vs. Larry Flynt – but this is his best work of 1996 and the film for which the Oscars recognized him with a supporting actor nomination. Norton has one of the most promising starts to a career for any actor. Norton’s anger revelation at the 73-minute mark – he turns from a baby faced innocent. Perhaps Brad Dourif’s Billy Bibbit character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was inspiration (rumor is Norton added the stuttering himself). The end of the film has the big reveal, not exactly The Usual Suspects big, but Norton’s clapping hands with that violent smile undoubtedly sent many reeling.


archiveable films

1996- Primal Fear
1996- Everyone Says I Love You
1996- The People Versus Larry Flint
1998- American History X
1998- Rounders
1999- Fight Club
2002- The 25th Hour
2005- Kingdom of Heaven
2006- The Illusionist
2012- Moonrise Kingdom
2014- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
2014- The Grand Budapest Hotel
2019- Motherless Brooklyn
2021- The French Dispatch
2022- Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery